Covering the Pistons can be a supremely frustrating exercise, especially once you venture out of your own comfortable bubble and start searching for opinions that don't line up with your own. As frustration mounts, losses pile up, Josh Smith jump shots go clang and Greg Monroe's lack of athleticism comes to the forefront, one can start to succumb to apocalyptic visions of the future.
And most of my visions involve Greg Monroe getting traded for 60 cents on the dollar so that Josh Smith can play his more natural power forward position. It's not something I want, but it is something I fear. And while I personally think (and I believe the numbers back me up) that Monroe is a better power forward and better match alongside Andre Drummond, it's alarming how many people want to trash Moose and put him on the next train out of town.
All of that is a preamble to introduce a refreshing, reasonable and reassuring take on the mounting calamity known as the Pistons starting frontcourt from Mlive beat writer David Mayo. Mayo's been my favorite writer since he joined the Pistons beat, and his most recent mailbag column shows why.
Here is Mayo's take on the Drummond, Monroe, Smith triumverate and the path the team prefers to follow. This is only one man's opinion, but I think it's a good take.
Fact 1: The Pistons can't lose Monroe for nothing.
Fact 2: Monroe is going to make eight figures for several years on his next contract, but he's not a max-contract player.
Fact 3: Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond over the long haul is not the ideal starting trio, but if you could get a dynamic small forward to go with them, and run them in a three-man rotation at two positions, you might have a real contender (and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, for whichever of Smith or Monroe comes off the bench).
Fact 4: Everything the Pistons have done for the last couple of years has centered on knowing they have to take care of Monroe next summer.
Fact 5: The biggest single factor in this equation is the one so rarely mentioned -- the Pistons don't have to pay Drummond until 2016-17, when Smith will be entering the final year of his contract.
OK, so Smith is underperforming at his new position. Monroe is defensively challenged at his new position. As mentioned, everyone knew this was going to happen. As I've said many times, this team shouldn't be nearly as good in November and December as it is in March and April. The chemistry issues, between guards missing the entire preseason, a rookie starter, and two players starting out of their natural positions, are too vast. That group won't ever operate seamlessly because of its natural limitations, but it can get much better together.
So let's just assume, for argument's sake -- and because I believe it's fact -- that Joe Dumars knew all of that going in, that he's anxious to see how it plays out, that he knows he needs a small forward eventually, and that he also is looking at the ledger sheet and seeing something a lot of people don't.
He's seeing promise. Not doom.
There is one overriding principle at work above all others: If you can keep Drummond, Monroe and Smith together, and bring in a top-flight small forward, that's the best scenario. It's hard enough to get a trio like that together in the first place. If you don't have to split it up for contractual reasons -- which the Pistons don't, because Drummond still has two more years after this season on his rookie contract -- then you don't.
You try to build upon it, which you don't do by subtracting pieces from it.
I keep hearing these doomsday-sounding admonitions that the Pistons have a difficult decision to make with Monroe. Maybe, in time, they will. But that decision isn't coming until summer, at earliest, and I'm not even sure that decision is going to be so difficult. Teams aren't lining up to offer max contracts to players who are either power forwards who can't defend the perimeter, or centers who don't protect the rim, whichever way you classify Monroe. He's a tricky fit with some teams. With the help of Drummond or Smith at any given time, the Pistons' rim protection improves immeasurably, and makes Monroe a better fit in Detroit than many places.
The one thing I would quibble with is that Monroe isn't going to get offered rookie-max money, either be Detroit or another team. I think Monroe's getting paid, and anyone who generally dismisses the idea that teams will overpay for a good, young player is living in a fantasy land.
But Detroit does need to decide if Monroe can be a legitimate power forward alongside Drummond for the next five years and make that decision by the end of the season.